Friday, July 21, 2017  

Make Your Taste Buds Sing: Wine Pairing in Harmony

When it comes to matching the perfect wine with the perfect food, one thing is clear, no matter what, drink what you enjoy, what you love and what tastes good to you. Different wines will give your food different tastes, as well as different foods will give your wine different flavors. To achieve the ideal match is, in essence, having your taste buds do the talking.

There are several guidelines when pairing food and wine. You do not want the wine to overpower the flavors of your food and in turn you do not want your food to take on the subtle tone of the wine either. It is crucial, when pairing up wine with food, to match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food. Garry Keckley, of General’s Ridge Vineyards in Westmoreland County states, “Wine is made to go with food, therefore it is only natural that they harmonize.”

Heartier food dishes should be paired with heavier wines like Cabernet and Bordeaux. While lighter foods should be matched with lighter wines such as Pinot Grigio and Riesling. Spicy foods pair well with acidic (tart/sour sweet) wines and acidic wines also work well with creamy or cheesy dishes. Tannic (the dry, bitter, woody taste in red wines extracted from the grape skin, seed and stem) wines pair better with foods that are high in fat because the fat coats the tongue and softens the tannic taste. Tannins in red wines impart a metallic taste if paired with high-iodine fish such as cod, mackerel and shellfish therefore they are better served with a white wine. Surprisingly, asparagus, artichokes and vinaigrette salad dressing will affect your taste buds and alter the flavor of wine so do not expect to taste terrific wine after eating either, they are best left for non-wine meals.

Blending the texture of the wine is just as important. When pairing wine with food, there is a delicate balance between the two flavors. The acidic, astringency and tannic qualities of wine, called the texture, are accentuated by the sweet and spicy ingredients in food. Certain foods that are high in acids or salt content are more likely to dull the textures of the wine. That is not necessarily a bad thing though. Think about how you want the food and wine to complement each other when matching textures. For instance, if you are attempting to bring out the tannins in a Cabernet, it should be served with a sweet or spicy dish. On the flip side, if you think the tannins in the Cabernet you are planning to serve are too big or strong, then you should tone them down by serving a dish that is a little more salty and bitter.

Finally, the age old rule of white wine with white meat and red wine with red meat is no longer set in stone. This is fine if you are unsure of what to pair together, but by no means is it the norm any longer. The main pairing idea is for the two to complement each other. Great advice from Karen Hayes, co-owner of All About Wine on Prince Street in Tappahannock, “Go to wine tastings all the time because you will find wines that you would never buy off the shelf and you will just love them. Believe it or not, many people do not know their own taste buds.” Hayes says. She also states, “Don’t stick with just one wine, pair different wines with your main dishes to experience the diverse flavors. Also, always start with a lighter wine, it helps clean your palate and keeps your taste buds alive.”

Do not be afraid to throw all of these guidelines out the window when treating your taste buds to a perfect pairing, just experiment with the flavors you desire and you will develop the pairing that is right for you. The following is a generalized list of wine pairings that you can use as a guide for your next gathering.


  • Cabernet Sauvignon: pungent cheeses, beef, fatty steaks such as rib eye or New York strip, duck, lamb, lentils and dark/bittersweet chocolate
  • Merlot: Antipasto, aged cheeses, veal, pork chops, barbeque ribs, hamburgers, sausage, salmon, tuna, lamb, duck, eggplant, raspberry/cherry or other dark berry desserts.
  • Zinfandel: strong cheese, seared Ahi tuna, spicy chicken or beef, barbeque, tomato sauce dishes, spicy sausage, duck, lamb, beef, carrot cake and dark berry desserts.
  • Pinot Noir: creamy cheeses, pate’s, roasted vegetables, veal, salmon, tuna, swordfish, chicken, turkey, lean cuts of beef, lamb, duck, pheasant, pork, veal, barbeque ribs, hamburgers, flourless chocolate cake and crème brulee.
  • Syrah: strong cheese, smoked meats, lamb, duck, hamburgers, pasta with red sauce and pizza with meat.
  • Dry Rose: poultry, shellfish, halibut,sole, tuna, salmon, grilled hamburgers, fajitas, mild cheese, cream based dip or sauce dishes.
  • Port: strong cheese, chocolate, fruit or creamy desserts.


  • Chardonnay: scallops, lobster and other shellfish or seafood, crudités, hummus, mild cheeses, chicken and grilled poultry, cream based dip or sauce dishes, pork, grilled white fleshed fish such as halibut or sole, cheesecake and poached light fruit.
  • Sauvignon Blanc: goat cheese, oysters, crab cakes, wild mushroom and goat cheese bruschetta, sea bass, lobster, langoustines, chicken, shrimp, Sushi, cheese pizza, cream based dip or sauce dishes, sorbet, key lime pie, angel food cake, bread pudding, cheesecake, fresh fruit and lemon meringue pie.
  • Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris: Ceviche, mild cheese, spicy food (whether beef, poultry or fish), Ahi tuna tar tare, antipasto, risotto, grilled chicken, pork, veal, shellfish, lobster, halibut, sole, trout, swordfish, pizza with meat, grilled vegetables, white sauce dishes, crab, petit fours, fruit and apple tart.
  • Riesling: bleu cheese, calamari, steamed clams, creamy cheeses, roasted chicken, grilled pork, spicy food (whether beef, poultry or fish), pheasant, baked ham, fettuccini Alf redo, lobster thermidor, shellfish, seafood bisque, Sushi, Thai or Asian food, Cajun food, cheese pizza, light cakes, cream based pies, baked apples, chocolate cakes or pies, creamy and fruit desserts.
  • Gewurztraminer: sole/halibut, poultry, beef, spicy food, Thai food, Chinese food, mild cheese, dishes with cream sauce, cream based dips. (Sometimes called a “Thanksgiving” wine)
  • Viognier: shellfish, sole/halibut, spicy food (whether poultry, beef or fish), poultry, mild cheese, cream based dips or sauces, fruit and creamy desserts.


  • White Zinfandel: spicy foods (whether beef, poultry or fish), chicken, mild cheese, cream based dip or sauce dishes and fruit or creamy desserts.


  • Extra dry/medium dry, Brut/dry, Rose/brut style: shellfish, Asian food, sole, halibut, eggs benedict, mild cheese, cream based dip or sauce dishes.
  • Demi Sec/slightly sweet: fruit and creamy desserts.

Wine Manners

When a dinner guest brings a bottle of wine for a gathering at your home, let them make the decision about serving it that evening or leaving it for you to enjoy at a later date. If opening that evening and the bottle does not pair up with your dining or you have wine already, open the guest’s bottle before dinner as a pre-meal indulgence.

Wine is to be enjoyed while being served at proper temperatures. For sparkling wines, 40-45 degrees is appropriate, for white wines it is 40-50 degrees and for lighter reds, 50-55 degrees, while full-bodied reds should be around 60-65 degrees. Alas, if you happen to forget to refrigerate a bottle of white wine for your gathering, it is perfectly fine to place the bottle in the freezer for about ten minutes when you remember. This will not harm the wine. When pouring wine, only fill the wine glass one-third full. This is to allow swirling without spilling. The purpose of swirling the wine is to release the aromas. The majority of red wines are ready to drink as soon as they are poured but very old or very young wines may need to be swirled vigorously after being poured. Also, wine glasses should always be held by the stem. Holding the bowl of the glass with your hand will warm the wine and may alter the flavor.

With the holidays quickly approaching, your favorite turkey dinners of the year will be here before you know it. Pairing wine with turkey could not be easier, reason being…there is no perfect match. Turkey pairs well with both red and white wines. Consider the way the turkey is prepared and all the sides to be served for dinner while choosing a suitable wine to serve your guests. But most importantly, choose what you or your guests are partial to. Try a Pinot Noir if you prefer red wine because it has less tannins so as not to overwhelm the meal. Also, serve the Pinot Noir slightly chilled to bring out the fruit flavors and lessen the ‘bite’ of alcohol that is tasted when it is served at room temperature. Turkey pairs well with Zinfandel also. But stay clear of that special bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that you have been saving for a special occasion, it would be too overpowering for the meal, save that one for later. Keckley, of General’s Ridge Vineyards says, “There is a resurgence of Rose wines because they appeal to various pallets. And Rose is an excellent choice for holiday meals served with ham, turkey, stuffing, yams, etc.; it pairs well with a variety of foods.”

If you prefer a lighter taste, then by all means, try a Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or even Pinot Gris. Just about any white wine will pair well with turkey, but steer clear of sweet dessert wines. There are even some brut champagnes that are weighty enough to be served with a rich turkey dinner. So go ahead, experiment this season and try something new and exciting with your dinners.

Wine lovers will concur, when the right food is paired with the right wine, the combination of the two is better than the sum of its parts. Pairing the right wine with your meal or dessert will enhance the flavor of your food while pairing the right food with your wine can really make the wine sing to your taste buds. Karen Hayes, from All About Wine, sums it up by saying, “Do not make wine too complicated, wine is to drink and enjoy. Relax, have fun and drink what tastes good. That is the most important element of wine.”